Florida Women Top Stanford 4-2 on Rain-Interrupted College MatchDay; Kenyon Captures Men's Division III Indoor Title
With the possible exception of the weather, the inaugural College MatchDay featuring No. 4 Florida and No. 13 Stanford was a rousing success, with the Gator women downing their rivals from Palo Alto 4-2.
With the score 2-2, rain descended on Gainesville, moving the remaining three singles matches into the Gators' newly completed three-court indoor facility. Not built to accommodate the 1033 fans who watched the first three hours of the match, the new facility served its purpose of allowing completion of the match. But with no seating, and Ken Thomas unable to resume his audio report at radiotennis.com, the details of the end of the match are not quite as vivid as those from the beginning.
The match didn't start well for Florida, with Stanford pulling away to take the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2. Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay beat Danielle Collins and Olivia Janowicz 8-5 at line 2 and almost immediately after the completion of that match, Nicole Gibbs and Kristie Ahn defeated Lauren Embree and Sofia Oyen 8-4 at line 1.
In singles, Florida got an early boost from Janowicz, who took a big lead over Lindsay Kostas at No. 6, and she was able duplicate her performance in the second set, posting a 6-2, 6-2 win to give Florida its first point.
Within 10 minutes of Janowicz's victory over Kostas, two more 6-2, 6-2 decision were posted, with Tsay taking out Collins at No. 5 to make it 2-1 Stanford, then Oyen completing her victory over Ahn at 2.
Within five minutes of Oyen's win, the rain began, with the other three matches in their second sets.
The marquee match was at No. 1, where two-time NCAA Most Outstanding Team Player Lauren Embree was taking on reigning NCAA singles and doubles champion Nicole Gibbs. Ken Thomas was calling that match and the intensity from both players on every big point came through loud and clear over his court microphone. Gibbs took the first set 6-4, winning the final four games of the set, and they were on serve early in the second when the match went indoors.
Florida's Alex Cercone, who had lost the first set to Krista Hardebeck at line 3, was had seen her 4-2 second-set lead disappear, with the score 4-4 when the rain arrived. At line 4, freshman Brianna Morgan and Tan were early in the second, with Morgan having won the first set 6-4, while Embree was leading Gibbs 2-1 in the second.
Cercone was the first to earn a split, taking the second set from Hardebeck 6-4. Tan followed by taking her second set from Morgan 6-3, and Embree earned a third set by breaking Gibbs serving a 4-5.
Those of us who have seen Gibbs and Embree play for the past half dozen years were hoping and expecting that the match would come down to them, as both have well-deserved reputations as tenacious fighters who never know when they're beaten. That didn't happen, with Cercone coming back from down 2-0 in the third set to beat Hardebeck 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and give Florida a 3-2 lead. Morgan had taken control in her match with 2011 NCAA finalist Tan leading 5-2 in the third set, while Gibbs and Embree were at 2-2 in the third.
Morgan had a chance to serve out the match at 5-3, but she was broken at love. A quick check of the status at No. 1 showed Gibbs up a break, but that had meant little throughout the match, with holds infrequent. Morgan earned one match point at 30-40, which Tan saved, but when the freshman got her second match point, she converted it, taking a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory and delivering Florida's 4-2 win.
It was another exciting chapter in the best rivalry in women's college tennis, but its implications for the NCAA tournament are not exactly clear. Last year Stanford beat Florida in a February dual match in Palo Alto, but it was the Gators who went on to claim the NCAA title in Athens in May. With the Pac-12 and SEC seasons beginning soon, both teams have many more tests ahead.
For a complete account of the match, see the Florida athletic website Gatorzone's coverage.
The men's Division III Team Indoor Championships were played this weekend in Minnesota, with No. 2 seed Kenyon defeating No. 1 seed and defending champion Emory 5-4, with the match decided in a third-set tiebreaker, just as the ITA Division I Women's Team Indoor was. C.J. Williams of Kenyon defeated Elliot Kahler of Emory 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(4) to win give the Lords the first team title in program history. The ITA's detailed account of the match can be found here, and the box score of the final is here.
Noticing in the ITA's preview that only five of the preseason Top 10 were competing in the Indoor this year (this is an 8-team event), and in light of the absence of Stanford, Florida and North Carolina in the women's Team Indoor next year, which I explored in this post earlier this week, I asked the Division III expert if there was a simple explanation for the absence of Williams, Washington University, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Bowdoin and Pomona-Pitzer--the members of the Top 10 who did not play. This was his response:
The NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) schools do not play due to conference rules. CMS has not played by choice, and Wash U chose to decline this year as well.
So it appears a tournament can continue without the participation and support of all of the top schools without losing any legitimacy.
If you are interested in Division III men's college tennis as it works its way toward this year's NCAA tournament at Kalamazoo College, please check out the Division 3 Tennis blog.